Donald Trump’s declaration that he might intervene in charges against a top Chinese corporate executive who was detained in Vancouver is raising new questions about Canada’s role in the growing tensions between two superpowers.
The U.S. president told Reuters in an interview that he could step into the case against Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou if it would help him forge a trade deal with China.
“Whatever’s good for this country, I would do,” Trump said in Tuesday’s interview. “If I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made — which is a very important thing — what’s good for national security — I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary.”
Trump’s comments will intensify the scrutiny of Canada’s role in the U.S.-China standoff.
Canadian authorities arrested Meng at the request of the U.S., which alleges she tried to bypass American trade sanctions on Iran and lied to U.S. banks about her actions.
Ottawa has repeatedly stated the arrest, which has enraged China, is keeping with international laws on extradition and was a response to a lawful request from U.S. law enforcement.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has stressed that politics, or doing the U.S.’s bidding, had absolutely nothing to do with it.
Canada already appears to be paying a price.
This week, China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig in a move that came days after Beijing warned Ottawa of severe consequences for Meng’s arrest.
China’s Foreign Ministry insisted Wednesday it had no information about Kovrig and declined to confirm his detention.
But ministry spokesman Lu Kang says the International Crisis Group, where Kovrig has been a Hong-Kong-based analyst since February 2017, is not registered in China and alleges its activities in the country are illegal.
“I do not have information to provide you here,” Lu said when asked about Kovrig. “If there is such a thing, please do not worry, it is assured that China’s relevant departments will definitely handle it according to law.”
Because Kovrig’s group is not registered as a non-governmental organization in China, “once its staff become engaged in activities in China, it has already violated the law,” Lu said.
Lu also repeated China’s demand for Meng’s immediate release.
The International Crisis Group said Kovrig was on a regular visit to Beijing when he taken into custody Monday night by the Beijing Bureau of Chinese State Security, which handles intelligence and counterintelligence matters in the Chinese capital.
One of Canada’s former ambassadors to China — and Kovrig’s boss between 2014 and 2016 — said he has little doubt Kovrig’s arrest came in direct response to the Meng case.
“I can tell you that based on my 13 years of experience in China, there are no coincidences… The Chinese government wanted to send us a message,” said Guy Saint-Jacques, who was Canada’s top envoy to China from 2012 to 2016.
Active diplomats can be expelled by a host country fairly easily, but since they are protected by diplomatic immunity, arresting and holding one would be extraordinary, he said.
“In this case, it’s getting as close to that as possible,” Saint-Jacques said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “Clearly, they wanted to catch the attention of everyone in Ottawa.”
Over his career, Kovrig served in diplomatic postings for the Canadian government in Beijing, Hong Kong and the United Nations mission in New York. His LinkedIn profile says he worked as the “political lead” on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to Hong Kong in September 2016.
Trudeau said Tuesday that Ottawa was in direct contact with Chinese diplomats and representatives over Kovrig’s arrest.
“We are engaged on the file, which we take very seriously and we are, of course, providing consular assistance to the family,” Trudeau said.
A Vancouver judge released Meng, 46, on $10-million bail and under strict conditions Tuesday. Meng has denied the allegations through her lawyer in court, promising to fight them if she is extradited.
The Canadian Press